March 14, 2009

Courtesy of Washington-St. Louis

Wheaton, Ill., March 13, 2009 – The No. 2 ranked Washington University in St. Louis men’s basketball team advanced to the 2009 NCAA Sectional Championship game with a 55-52 win at No. 3 Wheaton College on Friday night in front of a sold out crowd of 2,618 fans at King Arena in Wheaton, Ill.

Washington University advances to the Sectional Championship to take on No. 1 University of St. Thomas on Saturday at 7 p.m. for a berth in the Final Four held March 20-21, at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va. The Tommies posted an 86-69 victory over No. 7 University of Puget Sound on Friday.

"This was a great Division III basketball game tonight," said Washington University head coach Mark Edwards. "Both teams played great defense tonight and showed will power. When you get to championship play, sometimes that is what you have to have to win."

Despite losing senior Tyler Nading to his second foul one minute into the contest, Washington U. gained an early advantage on Wheaton with its outside shooting. Junior Aaron Thompson drained a three-pointer from the wing and then sophomore Caleb Knepper replaced Nading and quickly hit a three from the wing to make it 10-4.

After a miss by Wheaton, Thompson drained his second triple of the half to cap a 9-2 run to push Washington U.’s lead to 13-6 with 14:58 remaining in the first half. Another three by Sean Wallis gave WU an 18-10 lead, as the Bears hit four of its first five shots from beyond the arc.

Washington U. went through a stretch of five minutes where the Bears missed four shots and committed a turnover to let Wheaton back in the game. Jake Carwell’s lay-up at the 6:03 mark capped an 8-0 run to knot the score at 18-18. Tied at 26-26, Wallis nailed his second three-pointer of the game and then freshman Alex Toth’s jumper at the 2:04 made it 31-26, which was the score at halftime.

Wallis (12 points) and Thompson (10 points) combined to score 22 of Washington U.’s 31 points, as the Bears shot 50 percent (13-26) from the field. Wheaton All-American candidate Kent Raymond had 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting in the first half. The Bears also hit 5-of-12 from three-point range while the Thunder was 2-of-10.

Wallis stole Wheaton’s opening possession and went in for a lay-up, and then scored another in the paint at the 18:28 mark to give the Bears a 37-28 lead early in the second half. Ben Panner got the Thunder back into the game quickly as he scored eight-straight points in a span of two minutes to trim the advantage to 44-42.

A put-back by Wheaton’s Andy Wiele at the 3:09 mark gave Wheaton its first lead since 18:08 left in the first half. Two free-throws by Wallis gave the Bears a 53-52 advantage, and then a lay-up by Nading made it 55-52. Raymond’s three-pointer with three seconds left was off the mark as WU advanced to the Elite Eight for the third-straight year and sixth time in school history.

Wallis led the Bears with 18 points, six assists and four steals, while Thompson chipped in with 14 points and five rebounds. The Bears shot 50 percent (23-46) from the field, including 6-of-17 from three point range. Nading added seven points as he moved past Gene Nolan (1992-96) and Chris Alexander (1997-01) into fourth on the all-time scoring list with 1,495 points.

"I got into a rhythm tonight early and hit a couple shots and that opened up things up for me to get to the basketball the rest of the game," said Wallis. "My shot has been feeling good the past few games and I am going to ride this streak as long as I can."

Wheaton, which ended its season with a 26-4 mark, shot 42 percent (21-50) from the field and had 15 turnovers. Raymond (22 points) and Panner (20 points) combined to score 42 of 52 points for Wheaton, including the first 24 in the second half.

"Most of our focus this week was on post defense and to front their post players," said junior Cameron Smith, who along with Thompson held Raymond two points below his season average of 24.0 points per game. "Because our guys fronted the post so well, Raymond had to take tough shots all night long."

The victory for Washington University was its 17 in the last 18 games, and a school-record 26th of the season.